Summer and Swimmer’s Ear: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

Summertime in Australia means one thing – swimming and lots of it. It’s a way to get a bit of relief from the hot, hot sun and it’s also a lot of fun. Whether you’re swimming laps, exploring the underwater world with some goggles or indulging in the great Australian past-time of catching a few waves, there’s nothing like that combination of a beautiful day and water.

But this past-time can come with a downside – the dreaded ‘swimmers ear’. Called otitis externa, ‘swimmers ear’ is a condition that causes inflammation of the external ear canal and is most commonly caused by a bacterial or fungal infection. Bacteria and fungi thrive in warm and humid conditions, therefore water stuck behind built up wax in the ear canal is the perfect environment for trouble to start brewing. Other conditions that may place you at a higher risk of contracting an external ear infection include skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis, allergies, diabetes, or cleaning your ears incorrectly.

Even though the name implies it is all about swimming, water can also become trapped in the ear following showering or bathing, placing you at greater risk of infection. So what are some of the common signs of swimmers ear?

swimmers ear

The Progression of Swimmer’s Ear

You’ll notice a rapid onset of this condition over a couple of days. Your ear canal may become wet, inflamed, itchy, painful and you may notice a discharge. Your ear will also feel blocked and your hearing may be impacted and the outer ear may be sensitive to touch. Doesn’t sound like much fun! So how is this condition treated?

Treatment

A visit to your GP is recommended. Treatment will include keeping the ears dry and using any eardrops prescribed by your GP. The drops may be antibaterial or antifungal and may also contain a steroid to reduce inflammation. Microsuction, a dry technique used by Earworx nurses to remove excess ear wax, can also be used to remove debris related to swimmers ear. This will allow any prescribed drops to penetrate better and work faster to clear the infection.

It’s always best to get a professional opinion before considering any home remedies. If your ear feels painful to touch, it’s best to see a professional as soon as possible.

How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

You can employ the following to enjoying a swimmer ear free summer:

  • If you are prone to wax build up, try using earplugs to prevent water entering the ear. This keeps water out of your ears and goes a long way to avoiding this dreaded condition.
  • Make sure you dry your ears after you go for a swim. Wipe the outer ear and do so gently. Shake excess water from your ear canal and use a hairdryer on low heat to remove any trapped water. Aqua Ear (alcohol ear drops) can also be used to remove water from inside the ears by evaporation. Only use Aqua Ear if you do not have a hole in your eardrum
  • Consider an ear clean prior to the summer months ahead. Water trapped behind wax, whether this leads to an infection or not, can be distracting and unpleasant. It can also ruin a good holiday! Trapped water will be partially absorbed by wax which will cause wax in the ear canal to expand. This can lead to blockage

Ears are Self-Cleaning

Remember that for most people the ears are self-cleaning. All you need to do is gently wipe any wax from the outer ear and never stick anything inside your ear canal. Using cotton buds, fingertips and bobby pins to try and clean out wax will only increase the likelihood of getting swimmer’s ear and could cause serious damage to your ears and your hearing. Your ears are incredibly delicate, and even the slightest trauma can create some serious issues.

Using any of these methods may serve to push wax deeper into your ears, which can lead to a painful and annoying condition known as impacted ear wax.

If you feel as though your ears are producing too much wax and you need a bit of a clean out, try the Earworx professional method known as micro-suction. This method uses small instruments (like forceps and curettes), and micro-suction, to gently loosen and remove any impacted wax. You’ll have clear, clean ears afterwards and you’ll have protected the delicate mechanisms that allow you to hear.

So, if you want to enjoy swimming without the pain, you know what to do. And, if you want clear ears without risking any damage to your ears, you also know what to do.

The team at Earworx loves checking the health of your ears and dealing with any ear wax issues. We’re happy to provide you with ear education. And, we can help you work out if referral to another health professional may be required.